A bird with a swagger? Yes, that’s the Cactus Wren. This brash songbird makes no effort to conceal his busy occupations about the desert. Nest building is nearly a full-time job, but plenty of hunting is done as well, and Cactus Wren is always on patrol in his territory, singing from a cactus top or scolding intruders.
Cactus Wrens choose life-long partners and live in year-round territories. They build many nests, nests for raising babies, and nests for shelter from heat and safety from nighttime predators. The spherical nests are open at one end, where a tunnel leads to the inner chamber, which is cozily lined with feathers.
These nests are usually placed in cholla or prickly pear cacti, but are also found in acacia, Palo Verde or mesquite trees. The thornier the better. Working together, a Cactus Wren pair can build a nest in one to six days, working mostly in the morning. After the youngsters have fledged, the grasses and weeds woven into the abandoned nest are popular with other bird species. In a prime location, a new nest will be built right on top of the old.
When not nest building, Cactus Wrens are hunting. Omnivores, they eat insects mostly but also spiders, lizards, berries, fruit and nectar, some seeds, and occasionally a small rodent. They do not drink free standing water, obtaining moisture from cacti pads and fruits. Dust baths keep their feathers clean.
Parents raise 2-3 broods every year, feeding the 3-5 nestlings insects. Grasshoppers are a favorite food. The parents pull the wings off before feeding up to 14 grasshoppers to each nestling every day. Fledging happens in about three weeks. So strong is the nest building instinct, that the youngsters begin picking up nesting materials when they are only 12 days out of the nest.